Update, 11 February: The features are now live on the Android app, coming to iOS soon.
Late last year, Uber announced plans for tighter safety measures in India following the rape of a passenger using its service in December. Now it has confirmed that two major features — an in-app panic button and journey/location sharing — will roll out to users in India on February 11
The company went public with the launch date after Times Of India reported that the Mumbai transportation department was considering a ban on its service over its apparent approach to safety. Authorities are reportedly “not happy with Uber representatives’ responses during various meetings held to consider measures for passengers’ safety.”
Uber cleared the air on its plans to settle “some misconceptions” around its safety policy — which already includes more stringent background checks and a dedicated emergency response team. That will be boosted when the in-app panic button, which alerts local police when triggered, and a ‘safety net’ feature, which goes beyond Uber’s existing ‘share my ETA’ feature to let customers share details of their location and trip with up to five other people, go live in India next week.
The company previously said that these features will be rolled out worldwide at a later date, but India is the first priority in response to heightened concerns about safety following the rape incident.
Times Of India also reported that Uber has irked Mumbai authorities with its reluctance to install physical panic buttons in its drivers’ cars, something that new regulations have made mandatory in the city. Notes from the transportation department reportedly read that Uber “appears [to] want to put the onus of passenger safety on a cab’s owner and driver.”
Uber argued, however, that requiring physical panic buttons would be confusing because many drivers use multiple taxi app services. Since each one button is connected to a single taxi app service, that would necessitate multiple physical panic buttons in many cars, it argued.
“In a situation of distress the rider would have to pick the correct operator’s panic button to be able to get help on time. [In a car that works with India’s four top taxi app services] that’s 25 percent chance of success; and a decision that has to be made and executed in a split-second, if at all,” Uber said in a blog post.
Uber did propose a single panic button — installed by the driver and connected directly to the local police — as a better option. However, it then hit out at officials in Mumbai, adding that “forward looking regulatory authorities in India are already embracing this position and requiring technology platforms to have in-app safety features.”
The Uber returned to the road in New Delhi last month, six weeks after it was banned following the rape. The U.S. company applied for a mandatory radio license and revealed that it has adopted a non-profit model in the city until it is granted.